You’ll surely think me mad at the story I’m about to tell. But believe me friends, this is no story.
It began with them getting Rachel. I don’t know how they did it – or who or what they are – but they did. She’s gone now, to god only knows where. My beloved, sweet, innocent Rachel. The love of my life. Stolen, taken from me, and replaced.
We’d been living together in a small apartment off Reed Sq. – happily, blissfully in fact – for the best part of three passes. And had been pretty much inseparable for the six or so cycles leading up to us moving-in together. Looking back now, I sincerely don’t think I’ve ever been happier. She was just so loving, considerate, smart, funny, attractive. I’d seriously lucked-out. Especially considering I’m… well, like this.
Then, without warning she was gone. One morning I think it was. I mean, to my shame, I didn’t notice it right away. It was kind of subtle to begin with – the differences in the replacement – I’m sure you can understand. She – or it – looked the same. Exactly. Right down to the little nebula of freckles, dotted across her left flank. Exactly, I tell you. Even her eyes. Those multicoloured eyes – I used to call them – a medley of various shades from hazel to stony grey with flecks of emerald cutting through in different proportions on different occasions but never the same twice; paler colours coming out in the sunlight and the darker ones reserved – not exclusively, but predominantly – for moon, or candle light.
Anyway, the point is that the replacement was flawless in every detail. So, I cannot be blamed for failing to recognise the switch had taken place; having gone to bed the night before with my darling Rachel at my side, and inadvertently waking up the following morning with – what I now know was – one of them.
I urge you now friends, to seriously consider anyone in your own life that may have been replaced. Then perhaps my misfortune and suffering can serve as a valuable lesson to you – and please believe me when I say, this really is a case of Us… or Them.
So – as I say – it started subtly, just small details, like an unfamiliar gesture here, or an awkward inflection there. Nothing I could really put my finger on. Not at first. We’d always been very touchy-feely, me and Rachel, and that just suddenly stopped dead. I thought I’d done something, offended her, or upset her in some way – although she told me she was just tired. That was when the time alone in the bedroom started. I’d given her space to begin with – she’d said she was tired after all, and I’d bought it – but thinking back now, something just didn’t fit. But I guess hindsight tends to favour the tidy narrative structures.
I went out to work and she ‘slept’ in the bedroom. That became our sort of default-setting for a while. We spoke only in brief ergonomic sentences, usually sparked by us passing in the kitchen or hallway. ‘You feeling any better sweetheart?’ would be answered with a simple ‘A bit. Just tired.’ Any attempt made on my part to initiate a kiss or a cuddle was very much resisted. That was when I knew something was very seriously wrong. She’d always smothered me with affection in the past, she’d been the more physical one in fact, like the French proverb says: ‘In love, there is always one that kisses, and one that offers the cheek’. I was – not always – but often – the offeror of the cheek.
It’s remarkable how long some words can seem to evade an individual’s attention throughout a lifetime. I myself, for example, didn’t hear – or remember reading – the word ‘Nadir’ – as in, ‘the opposite of Zenith’ – until I was in my early-twenties, then of course, once you hear it, it’s everywhere. That’s what it was like when I started noticing the changes, uncovering them one by one to begin with, then they were just everywhere.
We started arguing, and we’d never argued before. Not seriously anyway. It seemed everything I did, that she’d always previously found endearing, enjoyable, or even attractive, now annoyed the hell out of her.
When I relax of an evening, I light my pipe. She’d always loved the aroma, even the second-hand smoke; sometimes having asked me to blow it towards her – I found it a little odd at first but had preferred it infinitely more than being asked to go outside. Which Rachel never did. Her replacement, however, started opening windows and doors, wafting the smoke from her face if she had to pass through it, as well as using aerosol room odourises. The very ones in fact, my Rachel used to despise, calling them ‘fake chemical poisons’.
No further investigations were necessary after that. I knew my Rachel was lost. Although I had to postpone my mourning of her, in light of the present, and very real threat, of this imposter.
At the beginning a million-and-one ideas came to me about who, or what, she was; or is. And who they are. I mean, come on, I’ve seen the movies and read the stories, where aliens or demons hijack the bodies of unsuspecting victims, or where cyborgs or simulants are created in exact replica of an original host, but the problem with these narratives was always – Why? Why her? Why me? She didn’t seem to be gathering information on behalf of some imminently-attacking or threatening alien race, or wreaking havoc like a person possessed; nor did she appear to be mechanical in any way; her skin was still warm and soft, although I was no longer permitted to touch it without her reeling back and making excuses – and her eyes were still… well, human.
The first few weeks of arguing were the worst. Every little interaction or exchange just seemed to infuriate her. I was trying to keep my distance too now, knowing she wasn’t Rachel, but occasionally something would have to be said between us – in order to avoid suspicion. Even just a ‘Morning darling’ or ‘Did you sleep ok?’ was either met with coldly or would erupt into a series of complaints about my noise-levels, kitchen, and/or toilet habits. We were both playing our little roles now; however well, or poorly.
I’d started sleeping on the couch, but apparently even the slightest movement, that I’d make in the night, would wake her, and she’d not be able to get back to sleep for hours. While I snored-away obliviously; infuriating her even further.
I couldn’t win. I had no place to go other than home, and we’d got the place together less than a pass before. Although I worked, the rent was expensive and keeping on top of it, as well as keeping myself fed and clothed, was about all I could afford in the present economy. I certainly couldn’t afford the deposit required for any kind of alternative accommodation. And any friends I might have had, were so far from here and my work that the fuel-cost alone would be enough to break the bank. I was trapped; dammed if I did and dammed if I didn’t. So, I had to just get out. But of course, she didn’t like that either.
She wouldn’t leave the bedroom, let alone the apartment, so I figured I’d be dammed out there. At least I could take stock and try to formulate a plan, or to make some sense of what was happening.
I spent three lunites sleeping in the car. Just nearby, off-road, wherever I could find that was quiet enough to not be disturbed; or had minimal disturbances. Two were off-days, so I didn’t have to go into work, but the third was tricky. I’d forgotten my keycard to the building so had to sneak back into the apartment and collect it. In this task, I failed miserably. She’d changed the locks. And despite it being daylight, every single light in the apartment was on. Another, noticeable split from my Rachel’s habits and practices. We both hated the glare of electrical lighting. This antagonistic Rachel-replacement, however, thrived on the stuff. I needed the card, there was no two ways about it, I had to knock, in the least annoying way possible – a difficult feat to master – I again, failed miserably.
She told me in as few words as possible that things had changed, and she’d enjoyed the experience of living alone – as short as it had been – and that she thought it would be a good chance for us to grow – you know, individually, and presumably apart.
My Rachel would never have wanted to live alone, the thought terrified her in fact. Who would do the dishes, take out the rubbish, or remove the spiders from the plugholes? No, living with me suited my Rachel just fine.
The imposter was trying to take over my life. I couldn’t let it happen. ‘I know’, I said. ‘I know, you’re not her.’
She seemed startled, like it hadn’t occurred to her that her number had been called. Or that I knew her secret. ‘We all change, sooner or later’, she said ominously. I detected the unmistakable undertone of a threat in her voice. Was I to be replaced too?
‘Oh, don’t give me that, whoever you are, I’m not giving up my life without a fight. This is my apartment, to start with! Half at least.’ Again, this idea seemed to surprise her. She paused silently for a moment then just walked off to the bedroom and pulled the door closed, behind her.
At this point I collected my passcard and escaped to work, already running late. What had it been? Well over a cycle, by then.
During this time, she’d transformed – from mildly, barely noticeably different, to baring no resemblance to my original Rachel in the slightest – at least in terms of her moods, behaviours and tastes; and pretty much everything but how she looked. Even that was beginning to change too now. She didn’t think I would, but I noticed it. Not just her choice of clothes or dress, but her facial contours were shifting. Just ever so slightly, the angles of her features were becoming sharper, more refined. Pinched – you could say.
When I got to work, the worst had happened. They’d got more of them than just my Rachel. I mean she must’ve been one of the first because everyone else was fine for the best part of a cycle – or maybe just over – but now replacements were going on left, right and centre. Right under our noses.
Jones had clearly been replaced. He was my direct superior – god bless him. Never had anything but praise for me, or my work. This guy, however, was rude, ungrateful, and acting like a spoilt child over the fact that I was a few minutes late into the office. And the big meeting.
I looked around the table. There were a few of us left, clearly. But of the twelve of us, I’d say four or five were replacements now. There’d be an awkward movement or an inconsistency in wardrobe or hair style, something small like that and I could tell. I’d got good at spotting them, from my time studying replacement-Rachel.
Maybe I’d been too hasty in overlooking the alien attack theory. There were angry, disapproving, intolerant and uncaring people everywhere. More by the day. They were taking over. And at an ever-increasing rate. Maybe I was next like she’d said, ‘We all change, sooner or later’. Nowhere was safe anymore.
I headed for the hills and set up my camp, or stronghold, from which I now write this. I don’t know why I came here particularly. It was instinctive I suppose – to go for the higher ground. Still, I can see them coming now, looking down, out and over, across the cityscape. They haven’t dared try it yet. I don’t blame them. I can defend against whatever they can throw at me. I’m a survivor, a warrior, and I’m prepared for them.
I have plenty of supplies, food, drinking and bathing water, tools, shelter and fuel for cooking and warmth. But little in the way of entertainment or company. If you’re reading this, know that I can protect us, we can rise up against the replacements before they turn every last one of us into mindless replicas, and mere shadows of our once magnificent former selves. Send word friends. And remember it’s Us or Them.
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